Akademiska Orkestern continues the old European tradition of university orchestras, having roots going back as far as the 17th century.

The Royal Academy of Turku (Åbo) was founded by Count Per Brahe in 1640 during the reign of Queen Christina, as the third university in the Swedish kingdom. From the very beginning, academic festivities were celebrated with musical performances of the students. In 1747, the first permanent orchestra in Finland Akademiska Kapellet was founded to encourage the musical interests of the students. When the university was moved to Helsinki (Helsingfors) in 1828, the orchestra continued its activities under the direction of composer Fredrik Pacius.

In 1928, orchestral activities (directed by composer Alfred Anderssén) returned to its roots to the old capital Åbo, where the present Åbo Akademi University had been established ten years earlier. Akademiska Orkestern vid Åbo Akademi was founded to promote musical activities among the students at the university. In the beginning the orchestra was a small ensemble, but since 1993 Akademiska Orkestern has been a full symphony orchestra.

The orchestra has been directed by among others professor John Rosas and honorary Doctor of Philosophy Gottfrid Gräsbeck, who was appointed honorary member of the orchestra in 1992. Sauli Huhtala has been principal conductor and artistic director of Akademiska Orkestern since 1991.